Hydrogen heroes

UK-based Intelligent Energy (IE) has developed the first hydrogen-generation system that converts liquid synthetic diesel into hydrogen, which can then used to produce electricity and heat in a fuel cell. It was developed with South African company Sasol that makes synthetic diesel fuels using the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process. FT processing converts gases from coal such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen into liquid synthetic fuel, which is then refined.

The Hestia system reverses this process by converting the synthetic diesel into its constituent parts producing hydrogen. IE claimed the technology will mean hydrogen can be more easily transported and stored as conventional fuel before it is converted. The hydrogen is then purified to a level that can be used in fuel cells, using a micro pressure-swing purification system. Each unit can produce the electrical equivalent of 10kW of hydrogen when used with IE’s combined heat and power fuel cells.

The unit is designed to be used in refuelling stations for hydrogen vehicles in the future. According to Hazen Burford, IE’s head of US operations, the system will solve many of the problems associated with the hydrogen fuel economy.

‘Hestia will make hydrogen more accessible,’ said Burford. ‘It is much more effective to transport hydrogen as an FT liquid, than as a gas. Although the energy content of hydrogen is high, it is a light gas so is not that efficient. Many of the problems arise due to the difficulty of compressing the hydrogen and storing it effectively — using FT fuel gets round this problem.’

IE plans a number of demonstrations — it already uses the system to power its Long Beach facilities in California — and the system is likely to be launched in the US in the next few years. Burford said the company was already working with gas companies in South Africa and Norway and has also been in early talks with major UK gas companies to see how the system could be used.